Muschamp's move has Auburn in line for signing day surge
RALPH D. RUSSO
Feb. 03, 2015
On national signing day, there is a good chance Florida fans will be angry with Will Muschamp again.
The former Gators coach who was fired last season and hired as Auburn's defensive coordinator two weeks after he coached his final game for Florida has the Tigers in position to make a signing day surge.
Linebacker Byron Cowart of Seffner, Florida, rated the No. 1 prospect in the country by Rivals and ESPN, is scheduled to pick between Auburn and Florida on Wednesday, when high school football players can make those verbal commitments binding by signing a national letter of intent.
And Cowart's not the only blue chipper from the Sunshine State expected to choose between Auburn and Florida.
Offensive tackle Martez Ivey from Apopka, another consensus top-five player, and four-star linebacker Jeffrey Holland of Jacksonville also have narrowed it down to Tigers or Gators.
"It's a different situation for sure," said J.C. Shurburtt, national recruiting director for 247Sports. "If you look back at the history of the SEC, I can't really remember a time when a head coach went as an assistant to another school and started recruiting for that new school."
Muschamp was 28-21 in four mostly disappointing seasons at Florida, but even while his final year with the Gators was unraveling he was still connecting with recruits.
"I've never seen a head coach who was dead man walking have so much loyalty to him from recruits," said Mike Farrell, national recruiting director for Rivals.com. "When you compare the two situations, Brady Hoke was on his way out (at Michigan) and everybody abandoned ship. And at Florida all these big-name kids are still interested until Muschamp got fired. Then they lost interest. And then Muschamp gets hired at Auburn and all of sudden Auburn's the hot team."
Cowart showed no interest in Auburn until Muschamp made the 300-mile move northwest from Gainesville.
"We're real locked in," Cowart told ESPN.com after a visit to Auburn in January. "(Muschamp) made everything feel like home. I was comfortable, had fun, no stress, no worrying about anything."
Ivey and Holland had been considering Auburn all along, but the Tigers chances to sign both improved when Muschamp arrived and brought along former Florida assistant Travaris Robinson.
"Don't underestimate his role in all this," Shurburtt said. "He was one of Florida's top recruiters and it's the assistants that really get it done."
Muschamp and Robinson also put Auburn in the mix for another five-star from Florida, defensive end CeCe Jefferson from Glen St. Mary, though Jefferson seems more likely to choose between Alabama and Mississippi on signing day.
Ivey and Holland are also scheduled to announce their choices Wednesday.
Farrell and Shurburtt said they would lean toward Cowart and Holland picking Auburn and Ivey going to Florida.
"You're talking about three kids there that if Muschamp was still at Florida, they'd probably already be Gators," Shurburtt said.
Another Rivals top-100 player, receiver Ryan Davis from St. Petersburg, Florida, will also choose between Florida and Auburn.
With a strong finish, Auburn could be looking at a top-five class, right up there with Alabama, Southern California and Florida State.
Meanwhile, new Florida coach Jim McElwain heads into signing day with a class that ranks near the bottom of the Southeastern Conference — though with a chance to get much better.
While few Gators fans were upset to see Muschamp go, Auburn is thrilled to have him.
"He's been a breath of fresh air," Malzahn said. "He's a great defensive mind, a great staff guy."
AP Sports Writer John Zenor in Mobile, Alabama, contributed.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP